Thursday, July 31, 2008

Released and Wished Upon

If you have a secret wish, capture a butterfly and whisper your wish to it. Since butterflies cannot speak, your secret is ever safe in their keeping. Release the butterfly, and it will carry your wish to the Great Spirit, who alone knows the thoughts of butterflies. By setting the butterfly free, you are helping to restore the balance of nature, and your wish will surely be granted. (Native American legend)

Sleep has been elusive, something I can almost reach out for and feel tickling against the tips of my fingers, something almost tangible, but I've had a difficult time grasping it and curling it around me like a warm blanket. And so tonight, despite the most valiant of efforts (bedtime tea, a warm shower, lavender lotion and candles, even a small shot of Agavero--just enough to paint the inside of the shot glass a syrupy gold but barely enough to warm my belly) I climbed out of bed, Ken asleep next to me and stumbled down the hall in the dark. The cats were strangely absent from bed and as I rounded the corner between the kitchen and the dining room I saw them gathered, not quite in conference, but as an audience on the table before the large window, faces up and riveted. My eyes were still adjusting and the clock on the microwave seemed impossibly bright and green. My ears, however, were fine, and from somewhere over the cats' heads I caught the faint sound of tiny hands clapping, elfin hands, or the hands of flower petal fairies, clapping rapidly and softly as though covered by mitten or a thick layer or moist bread dough. I stepped around the table, exciting Pip, who leapt straight up in the air before me, almost at the window. He did that amazing cat trick spinning in mid air and somehow righting himself to land on the table thus preventing an embarrassing fall in front of his sisters. The clapping grew a little louder, a little more desperate and then I caught sight of movement up top, near the linen valance draped low, like gauze, from the curtain rod. Not hands, not fairies, not clapping but the butterfly who'd slipped in this afternoon. The street lamp on Bowles painted it as a large silhouette but as it trembled I also caught the briefest glimpse of the fire tucked away on the underside of its wings.

Quick, before the cats could leap again, I grabbed a plastic Tupperware bowl and the latest Bed, Bath and Beyond coupon which arrived in the mail today, a long rectangular thing of a good weight, sturdy and not likely to bend. I climbed the table, scattering the cats with my cracking knees and the jangle from the ceramic chimes knocking against my head. The clapping fluttering increased and now there was a definite thumping, a soft body knocking repeatedly against the glass, obscuring the street lamp repeatedly. Carefully and half blind, I took aim and caught it in the container against the window, sliding the coupon under it quickly without catching a wing or a toe, jumped off the table and carried it to the door.

I am a sentimental fool, but I believe those who know me best would admit it's one of my more endearing characteristics. I believe in thanking the universe for its gifts, offering gratitude to poetry and magic for touching your life, even if only briefly. So in the breezeway, the cats feet away on the other side of the door as if hoping I'd change my mind and toss them a treat, I slid the coupon away and looked down at my precious friend.

"Thank you," I whispered. "Thank you for the calm and all the dreams and all the hope. Thank you for staying with me and bringing peace with you. Go," and I gently tossed it into the air where it fluttered a moment before me, its legs furry and thick beneath it, the brilliant orange of its wings dazzling my eyes. It sank, caught and righted itself and hovered overhead a moment before dancing across the breezeway and up into the night, cool and restful.

And now I believe I will sleep.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Butterfly


"The butterfly is a flying flower,
The flower a tethered butterfly."
(Ponce Denis Écouchard Lebrun)

I believe in the power of the butterfly, a power that transcends and transforms, shapes the events and occurrences of the world and nature, and guides the soul. Butterflies do not fly, they dance and the joy of their short lives is evident in everything they do. They have occupied a huge portion of my heart, have restored my faith and have altered the course of my life in ways that are too numerous to go into now.

Duncan and I have kept our eyes open for butterflies on our walks in the grueling heat the last several days but have found none. Many times at the lake I have seen one spring from the tall grass along the shore and have held my breath waiting for that moment when its wings unfurl and color erupts into the world in a way that is bigger than the sunrise and sunset, only to discover a grasshopper, the prankster of the insect world, its wings out like a Chinese folding fan, with a flight too sure and straight to be a butterfly. Now, in this time, the joke is not well received. My heart has been breaking for the sight of one and the fields of Colorado have become strangely absent of their presence. Butterflies calm me, restore my faith and give me strength to do things when it seems there is none. Their mad polonaise has helped cut a path for me to follow through the world as they move ahead of me, searching for a place of rest and sanctuary.

Anyone who knows me well knows I do not pray, I send butterflies.

And so our paths and walks have been devoid of them. This afternoon I was almost frantic, desperate to find one and watch it, inhale the fluttering air it left in its wake and clear my mind. But it wasn't until we returned home, empty-handed and hot, hardly able to breath through this record-breaking heat, my shirt soaked through and Duncan, head hanging low and panting hard, that we discovered one, waiting like an old friend at my door--on my door, just above the knob where I would be sure to see it, a greatbighuge thing, like the palm of my hand, the color of dirt when its wings were folded up. I gasped and could not move. It twitched and as its wings parted only slightly I saw a brilliant shade of orange tucked inside, like a praise or a hymn to the sun clutched in the mouth, dancing and aching for release on the tongue, but not yet sung or uttered. I watched it, my heart racing, my breath coming fast, my fingers doing little clenching dances against my fists as I fought the impulse to reach out and touch it, pet it and rub some of its pixie dust on my fingers so I could make a mark across my heart. Instead, after long minutes of Duncan whining and sighing loudly against the door, I cracked it open to squeeze him through and then close it softly so I could marvel at my symbol, the wish the universe had granted and delivered directly to me. Duncan pushed through, dragging his leash, limp and warm, behind him, and as he did the butterfly slipped from the door, unfurled its wings and with one graceful beat, thrust itself into my home, swooping low over Dunc's back and then up, its wings burning cinders as it moved through the air. Winnie and Olive, perched atop the back of the couch, stood up tall and stretched high, their eyes wide, the very tips of their tails pulsing erratically. I pushed the door open and followed after it as it scraped the ceiling, dropped several feet and settled on my Christmas cactus. I sat at the table and watched it, barely able to breath, until the cats scampered from the couch and clamored up table. Winnie is content and observant, but Olive is still young and wild and I did not trust her to leave our guest in peace so I scooped them up, one under each arm––Winnie's bony little body light and soft in the crook of my elbow, Olive heavier and fat, her weight folding around my arm, paws digging softly into the skin of my wrist. I took them down the hall to the bedroom, pulling the door closed behind me and hurried back to the dining room where I discovered my friend had departed. I have searched for over an hour and have not seen it since, but there is tranquility in knowing it is here with me, somewhere, watching and lighting whichever corner it has taken refuge in, a flower in a dark place.


"I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly,
or whether I am now a butterfly dreaming I am a man." (Chuang Tzu
)


*The first image was borrowed from Google Images

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Silent Walk

We walk together but quite often we walk alone together, Dunc's leash stretched out as far as he can get, stepping along briskly beside me, leaving me to my thoughts, allowing my eyes to trace the ridges of clouds which unfold across the western sky, one dark line after another, broken only occasionally by a simple strip of unblemished white. I let him sniff and meander and he lets me lose myself in the sound of my feet on the sidewalk or the grass, or the simple musical snapping of the twig I pluck off the tree we pass, or the stick I crush underfoot. He loves all my attention but he loves me enough to know when I am lost in my own walk. He loves me enough to bask in our silence.

"See how nature––trees, flowers, grass––grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence... we need silence to be able to touch souls." (Mother Teresa)

Monday, July 28, 2008

The Coming Storm


Duncan and I stood on the edge of the park, the sky on one side of us blue and hot, a wide, foaming wave of churning black clouds on the other. The wind had picked up and tried to whip the cap from my head, so I pulled it off, scrunched it up and crammed it into my back pocket. The sporadic whipping of the wind was just as hot as the air rising from the street before us. Duncan leaned into it and his nose twitched as he pulled the scents from it: paint from the buildings, fast food from the Carl's Jr., freshly mowed grass from the golf course and a myriad of other things I know nothing about. I looked up at the slowly breaking wave, its crest white and jagged, miles high and as wide as the Colorado sky and pulled on the leash.

"Let's get inside, Dunc. There's a storm coming and I don't like the look of it one bit." He resisted until the first faint clap of thunder rolled across the sky and into the ground. Then he turned and we hurried back to the safety of the apartment.


There is a storm coming and I do not know where we will land.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Visitors and an Ordinary Walk

When my dad announced several weeks ago that he and his friend Jane planned on overnighting in Denver, he said, "Would it be possible to go on a walk with you and Duncan? Jane and I have talked it over and we think it would be a great thing to experience, if it's okay with you, of course."

I smiled into the phone and told him, "Well, I have to be honest with you, our walks are just like any ordinary walk. The clouds do not part, angelic choruses do not burst into song and there certainly isn't a beam of golden sunshine that follows us around. We just walk. It's really quite mundane. I'm afraid you wouldn't be very impressed."

But they insisted and when they arrived yesterday afternoon I was more than willing to take them with us to the park and around our usual spots. I was glad to have them but also a little nervous. Duncan tends to assume that when others are present I'm distracted, which he thinks means is reason enough to attempt to get away with murder. I don't know how many times we've gone over this lesson, but I am not distracted, perhaps more in tune with our walk simply because we have a reputation to protect.

And so we ventured across all six lanes of traffic on Bowles, which my dad rightly remarked upon as being "a bit dangerous." I laughed and told him that last winter when the snow and ice were piled up there and Duncan and I were standing in the median waiting to cross I'd envisioned my own death by sliding down the ice into oncoming traffic.

The park was wonderful, although a bit quiet. We walked down to the high school and then up toward the memorial. On the way we spotted several bunnies and dad and Jane got to witness Duncan's hunting skills live and in person, which I thought was quite exciting. He put on a full show for them, going rigid, lifting one paw slowly and letting it hang in the air, bobbing lightly before setting it back down. We climbed Rebel Hill, which offers a nice view of Littleton, the mountains and the eastern plains and looks down on the prairie dog town, which Duncan alternately shows mild interest in or utter indifference.

On the way home dad asked. "Was that a typical walk? Was that the way they normally go?" Except for the pace, which Duncan prefers to amp up a little more, it was a pretty typical walk, and as I'd explained, no angels burst into song and the sun did what it normally does which is take no notice of us at all. Even Duncan, who tends to act up, was well-behaved, only pulling on his leash every now and then. He even sat on the curb before crossing the street, waiting for me to give the all-clear command. It was an ordinary walk, except for the fact that dad, who I haven't seen in eight years, and Jane, who I'd never seen at all, were there with us. It felt good showing them the places I cherish, the places that inspire me and the places Duncan has led me to. And it was good to be in a place that is my own, to know the trails and the roads and to be able to point things out, to show others that that little boy, who, as my dad likes to tell, peed on the doctor the instant he was born, has made a place for himself in the world with a dear friend he calls Duncan.


*Please pardon my comb-over look. Dunc had given me a bath right before the picture was taken.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Mushrooms

It rained yesterday and last night, and the morning has been heavy with low clouds and the western version of humidity. The sun was little more than an idea when Duncan and I ventured out at 7:00 this morning to tromp across the wet grass at the park.

I am a mindful walker, careful with the diligent and tireless ants, the bumblebees who rumble over the clover, the few drunken butterflies, which lurch from one pocket of flowers to the next, sometimes falling rapidly to the earth before catching themselves and swinging back into the air. I watch the moths at night, for they too, despite their lack of color, are precious in their own way, especially when the moon dances across the papery wings. I try my hardest to step over them or steer around them, and work the leash to keep Duncan from plodding through them and scattering their secret endeavours to the winds. He is patient with me but does not care where his paws land or what wide sweeps his tail makes. It is busy work, this mindfulness, scanning the sidewalks and grass before us but this is when I often make my most-prized discoveries.

Mushrooms have erupted almost overnight. On the far side of the big willow I discovered an enormous wood-colored thing, a ship pushing through wild and grassy waters, her bow proud and tall, her stern tapered and dynamic. She was wide and heavy and I knew that given another damp night, would grow too large for her simple pedestal. Several ants crawled along her surface, manning her sails and steering her course, while a single captain of a fly flitted to and fro, barking orders and keeping its eye out for dangerous reefs and shoals. Duncan plopped down in the grass next to me while I spread out on my belly and told myself stories about the magnificent vessel.


On the far side of the park, at the whispy edge of field of succulent purple clover, two small mushrooms twisted and curled into the air quite near each other, their heads bent and tucked, their impossibly thin stems long and curling, like dancers draped in translucent white. Once again I laid myself flat on the grass at their sides and studied them, fiddling with my camera for the best possible angle, the most provocative lighting. They were wonderous and I imagined they'd twisted around one another all night, slowly pushing through the earth and grass, reaching out their armless bodies for one quick embrace before parting forever. The camera would not cooperate and the image I wanted never quite found its focus, so I fiddled and fiddled and rearranged myself, changed the settings, even attempted a delicate black and white but could not take a single picture of the lovers. I was fully prepared to stay all day if need be, but Duncan would have none of it. My mindfulness, it seems, has its limits, and that appears to be his desire for breakfast. With one graceless and terrible move, he stepped into frame, kicked his feet back, as though he'd just finished a Big Job and wrenched the delicate little things from the earth, parting them forever, scattering their broken bodies across the grass.

He snorted and looked at me as though he deserved a hero's praise. The problem was solved and need not be addressed again.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Fire

I have been enraptured with sunsets as of late, spending many an evening with Duncan under the last blaze of the sky as the sun dips down behind the mountains. It seems I could fill my eyes with the kind of reds and golds which grow more and more brilliant with each passing second, building upon themselves exquisitely, almost painfully, each solitary moment better than the last, like good food and wine followed by more good food and wine, or sex without end. I stood in wonder on the lake trail tonight, caught between the fire in the sky and the fire on the water and wondered when I'd be engulfed, when my awe would become so great it would turn in on itself and combust. There are many places in the world I want to visit and walk; sometimes my soul aches to see them, but tonight I was meant to stand in the middle of the trail, my face turned into the fire and gape like nothing else could make me gape at that moment, as if I'd been born to do nothing but witness the coming of this night, to cause the people passing me, oblivious to the world around them, to turn and stare also, to hold Duncan next to me and memorize every shade and hue, every subtle fluctuation in the colors and carry them home with me like I'd carry a butterfly, open-palmed and gently so as not to lose it in my haste.


Sometimes it is difficult to be alive, to plod through a day and wish only for its conclusion, but sunsets such as this are reason enough. Sometimes the conclusion is the reward for the toils and challenges and make the rest of it, the struggle and exhaustion, somehow sweeter. If I can say nothing else about this day I can say I stood with open eyes and heart and let the melting rays of the sun wash through me and reignite my spirit so I could bring it home and hold it close, like the memory of someone's hand in my own, warm and soft and of a perfect weight.


"The sky broke like an egg into full sunset and the water caught fire."
(Pamela Hansford Johnson)

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Four Years: Sun and Rain and a Single Dragonfly

It was four years ago today that my grandmother passed away. It's been a lost day, a day I haven't quite been sure what to do with. When my grandfather died in October of 2000 it was the first time I'd lost such a significant member of my family, someone I was so close with, whose blood still runs in my veins. I was lost and my world shifted terribly. Several years later, driving home from work, my grief bubbled up as real and desperate as it had that afternoon when I arrived in Idaho and had been told he was gone. I called my mom and asked her if it ever went away. She told me it gets easier but that sometimes, for no reason at all, it hurts just as much as it ever did. Four years later, still heartbroken over grandpa, I lost my grandmother, and as I suspected, it's a wound that is slow to heal. Even now I struggle when I realize how long it's been since I last heard her voice, how my shoulders miss the feel of her hug. And then there are the silly things I miss, which are almost more difficult to grasp than the big ones, because they are things which are not specific to her, but somehow mean more than any possible recreation ever could. Like her Pall Malls, smoked nearly down to the end, stained with her lipstick and crushed, backs broken, in her ashtray. Or her dill bread, which my mother makes every year for me when I'm home, and even though it's grandma's recipe and just as delicious, isn't hers. Or her flowery but sharp handwriting on letters and cards. I miss them terribly. Beyond words.

But despite the day's solemnity, there was still great beauty, in the heat, the heavy clouds and thunder which shook over us, and the way it managed to rain even as the clouds dissipated, pulling back and revealing the blazing blue heavens above before moving away to the east. It was my favorite kind of rain, when the drops, catching the light of the returning sun, fall from the sky in brilliant and blinding golden sheets and the ground rises up, suddenly green and fresh like it hasn't been in months. There were two men in the park today dancing and playing simultaneously in both the sun and the rain with their Golden, a large, shaggy, blond horse of a dog with enormous paws and a long, heavy coat. He was much larger than Duncan but no less exuberant. They tossed a Frisbee back and forth, low to the ground so the dog could chase between them and under it as it passed just above his head, then leap into the air to grab it, which he did remarkably well. He was a big, grinning, goof, this dog and just standing back and watching them play was enough to rouse me out of the sadness of the day, to turn my face from the last of the refreshing drops, barely falling from the leaves, and into the soothing sunshine. Duncan sat next to me, his tail wagging back and forth across the piles of freshly mowed grass, now clumped in wet heaps around us, looking up at me occasionally to see if I'd take him over to join in the fun. Finally, when the dog tired of playing chase, he simply threw himself into the arms of the closest man, knocking him over and slathering his head and neck with enormous wet kisses, a grin spread wide across his glorious face. The other man joined them and together they rolled and wrestled and took turns being knocked over by their companion, whose tail never once stopped wagging. It was a joyous sight and before we returned home Duncan and I took our turn at playing in the grass under the trees and after we tired we stayed a moment longer, paw to hand, he caught up in his thoughts and me in mine. A heavy, droning dragonfly finally broke our calm as it passed over Duncan's nose and moved across the shade toward the big puddle which had formed in a low place on the sidewalk. I knew that dragonfly and so we followed it until it finally outraced us and vanished into the grass.

The whole scene made me think of a very popular video my mother emailed me recently, which has played in my mind almost constantly since she sent it. It's become quite the sensation lately and I apologize first, for having an awfully video-heavy week, and second, if you've seen it before. It has nothing to do with dogs (quite the opposite actually) but everything to do with wild, unconditional love, the kind that does not end, but survives separation and grief and even time. This is what I'm thinking about tonight and I think you should, too.


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Two Rabbits

Because Duncan's rabbit hunting received such a great response, via comments, email and even several phone calls, I thought we'd try it again.

Sometimes he gets it and sometimes he just doesn't, which is, I suppose, the way most of us plod through each day. But I guess one of the beautiful things about life is that even though we miss the mark on countless occasions, we're given many opportunities to hit the nail right on the head.

video


video

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Brillante

Duncan and I were recently awarded the Brillante blog award by Kelly at Property of Kelly. She's an old friend, a talented artist and the person who convinced me blogging would be good for me. If you haven't checked out her blog or shop, you should do so immediately! While you're there, buy a cool card and send it to me. It made me quite happy to know that these writings, which were originally intended as a means of sharpening my craft, a kind of warm-up exercise before the marathon that I hope will result in first my novel, have merited this kind of acknowledgment among the kindest, most supportive readers I never dreamed I'd find. You're all very sharp and attentive, which has driven me to write carefully and with great consideration and so this award is dedicated to you as much to me.

The rules of accepting the award are:

1) Put the logo on your blog.
2) Add a link to the person who awarded you.
3) Nominate at least 7 other blogs.
4) Add links to those blogs on yours.
5) Leave a message for your nominees on their blogs.


It may seem easy enough but it's quite challenging to consider the blogs I read every day, the ones I love and cherish. I don't want to leave anyone out!

But here they are, in no particular order:

Greg at The Midnight Garden, whose attention to his little green patch and its glorious details is astounding. He understands the importance of balance, dedication and mindfulness like few people I know. A fine blog and a fine man!

Lori at Fermented Fur, who keeps me laughing all the time, understands the beauty and poetry to be found in sharing your life with dogs and is open to all the lessons the universe has to offer.

Valerie at My Boo Bear, who shares the joy and wonder she discovers daily with her Joey. She is kind-hearted, generous of spirit and seems to look at the world with the fresh eyes of her delightful companion who is still discovering so much.

Lori, at Life is Golden, who has had a challenging few months but has never lost her determination and love of life. Her companions, Dakota and Lilly, her cat and husband, Brian, are quite lucky to have her in their lives.

Sue at Random Ramblings, who has a taste for life that is unmatched. Always on the go, looking for new and exciting places to visit and experiences to have, this woman is unstoppable.

CJ at It's a Ruff, Ruff World, who takes the most exquisite pictures of his companions, Lucy and Sable. CJ is a master photographer and is dedicated to the well-being if his friends.

Murphy's Mom at Red Dog Romping, who despite not having posted for a while (AHEM!) is able to capture the joy and pampered leisure of her Golden, Murphy.

Anne at Charlie!, who understands the innocence and enormity Charlie's heart. She is careful and attentive to him and has celebrated every aspect of his life from the moment she and Charlie were brought together back in 2004.

Chris at Mackenzie Speaks, whose witty observations about dog thoughts keep me laughing. Not only his the writing charming but his pictures capture the utter freedom and celebration of Golden Retrievers.

It is people like these whose care and generosity give me hope for humanity. My grandmother taught me that we need to pay special attention to the needs of children and animals because they can not speak for themselves. It is easy to be a guardian or an owner (a despicable word!), but it takes so much more to be a friend and actually earn the love our companions give us unconditionally each day. If I've left you off the list I apologize. Please don't believe for one moment I think any less of your dedication. You are all wonderful people who care for wonderful dogs. Thank you for enriching my life and my walks with Duncan!

Monday, July 21, 2008

A Gentle Hunt

The bunnies, it seems, are starting to make a comeback, although I'm not sure why. Our end of the complex is still in the paint zone, with workers climbing the buildings on tall ladders, which, when they're done for the night they chain together and pile in the grass where the rabbits nestle as they dine on clover. The two giant garbage bins, train-car-sized, still look as though they were tossed into the parking lot, taking up twelve good spots. And a foul-smelling port-o-potty sits next to them, polluting the hedge where the rabbits roost. Despite all this, we've seen more rabbits in the past week than we've seen for most of the last month and Duncan is getting quite good at sneaking up on them, taking very deliberate, graceful and slow steps toward them, careful not to make a sound as he advances. I marvel at his care, which no one taught him. He simply knows it, which makes me wonder what the rest of us know but don't use because there is no need. At first glance he looks fierce, but trust me, there is nothing fierce about him. He wants those bunnies so he can bury his nose in their white bellies and sniff them up. He really is the gentlest soul I know.

video

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Relentless Night

After an excruciatingly long day with temperatures well above 100º, I waited until after dark before finally venturing outside to do the grocery shopping and take Duncan for an extended walk. We met up with Melissa and Kona at the edge of the parking lot, crossed Bowles, braving the sprinklers in the median and ventured into the park. It was still quite hot, the first night we haven't cooled down to the sixties all summer. Instead the temperatures hovered in the high eighties, sheening us in sweat and misery. Melissa and I are usually quite chatty but tonight we could only stand watching the dogs, too exhausted to make more than the simplest of chit-chat. While the dogs romped and played, Melissa swatted at her exposed arms and legs as the mosquitoes descended on her en masse. I wasn't bothered at all. Much to the annoyance of most of my friends, who apparently have much more delectable blood than I, the little buggers don't bother me at all... except in North Dakota, where they flock to me. The dogs rolled for a bit but finally we were driven off the field by the blood suckers and the thirty or so kids who overran us playing Ultimate Frisbee.

Duncan was quite displeased with my decision to return home and did one of his pouty fits where he drags his feet, hangs his head low and moves at a snail's pace, forcing me to practically drag him. Finally, quite near our building, he reared up and bolted around the side of the building into the dark, dragging me behind him. I ambled along trying to maintain control of the leash until I discovered the source of his rush: someone had dumped a cooler of ice in the tall grass beneath their balcony, leaving a sizable pile of quickly melting cubes which shimmered in the glow of the lamps from the baseball diamonds across the street. Duncan tip-toed into them, sliding only a bit as they shifted under his weight, sniffing for any stray goodies that may have been left behind. Finally, when everything seemed satisfactory he tipped gracelessly over on his side and rolled through them, a smile wide on his narrow, red face. Even I couldn't stand there without enjoying the relief so I kicked off my shoes, stuffed my socks into my pockets and joined Duncan by wading into them until his flailing scattered them across the grass where they melted even faster.

I tell you, he's a brilliant friend, smarter than almost anyone I know. Sure, he occasionally eats an unidentifiable scrap but who doesn't have their eccentricities?

Dear Ken

Don't worry about the fish. I'm taking care of them. Yes, it was Thursday before I remembered to do so and you'd left Tuesday morning, but everything is under control now, I promise. Of course they didn't eat Friday because when I reached for that bright yellow bottle of flakes we keep at the top of the aquarium I discovered it empty and didn't remember to run to the store until Saturday. Actually, because it was one-hundred degrees yesterday I didn't leave the apartment until eight, after had it cooled down and I was on my way to Andy and Sarah's for what seems to have turned into our weekly Saturday BBQ. Technically, though, I guess I didn't feed them until Sunday because I didn't get home last night until after midnight. But I promise, really, that I've been taking care of the fish. I mean, they're right there by the front door––I'd have to be an idiot to miss them.

Do you remember when we first met and I was listening to a lot of Phish? That was as close as I ever came to The Dead, who I never really cared for even though all my closest friends were deeply moved by their music and the experience of seeing them perform live. I never "got it" so I listened to Phish instead, which was like Dead-Lite, but even they fell by the wayside as the years passed and now there are only a few songs which remain in rotation on my iPod. One of them, "Lengthwise," has become my morning earworm, the song which begins running through my head the moment I open my eyes. It's a simple song, comprised of a single line repeated five or six times with the sound of a ticking clock and the heavy breathing of someone sleeping running softly under it.

"When you're there I sleep lengthwise, and when you're gone I sleep diagonal in my bed."

I have slept diagonal every night since you've been gone. Thankfully the chilluns have been there for me. They stopped sleeping with us back in June when it really started warming up, but they don't seem to like the idea of me sleeping alone and so they've rallied around their papa. Winnie has assumed her post on my hip, or the small of my back when I roll over onto my belly. Olive has moved from your pile of pillows to mine, where she perches above my head, a single paw outstretched and resting against my face all night, just to be sure of me, or rather, for me to be sure of her. Pip has taken to curling up under my arm, making a nice snug little crook between my ribs and my armpit. It's his new anesthesia position, for once he assumes it, I am asleep in bed or napping on the couch within minutes. Even Dunc, who hasn't touched the top of the bed in over a month, has taken to sleeping with me, at the foot of the bed in the long triangle shape leftover on your side after I cuddle with your pillow. He, too, reaches out, but rather than a paw, he rests his chin against my calf. The fish tend to stay in the tank, which is fine with me for I'd quickly grow tired of rescuing them from the cats.

I don't sleep well when you're gone. I don't even eat well, which I don't mind so much, but the sleeping is driving me crazy. Much to the disapproval of all assembled I toss and turn which requires a lot of quick thinking on the part of Winnie, who lifts herself off of me and twinkle-toes across my back until I settle down. Duncan, however, seems to be benefiting from your absence. When I can't sleep I take him out, sometimes just down to the end of the yard but also to the park, which is nice and cool and damp, and very quiet on the far side away from the late-night traffic on Bowles. Every now and then we pass other insomniacs, or the occasional teenage couple who have no where else to go, but mostly we have it all to ourselves, which reminds me of winter, which seems far away but isn't really. Last night we watched the moon, as white as bleached bone, or whiter than that really. And there was Jupiter not far away from her, the biggest point of light in the sky, bright and enormous and as magical as a planet can be. I felt safe under them, with Duncan at my side, our tracks through the grass behind us illuminated like the scales of a fish who rests on the surface of a night lake. I wondered if you were awake, standing on the big porch at your mother's house, smoking a cigarette and looking up at the big Northern Michigan sky, which is also the big Colorado sky, only an hour ahead. I wondered if you knew Jupiter for what it was or if it was just a very bright star to be wished upon. And if you did wish on it I hope your wish comes true. That's what I wished for.

And so we came home, the cats gathering around me on the bed as I pulled your pillow close so I could smell you and arranged myself diagonally as Dunc settled near my feet. I hope you are sleeping more peacefully than I am and I hope that Duncan meets you in your dreams, his tail wagging just as furiously as when you come home each night, his ball clutched in his mouth ready to be tossed. Those are my favorite dreams. I wonder if they're yours, too?

Hurry home. You're missed, especially by the fish, who are doing well. I promise.

Curt

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Littleton, 4:30

As much as I dislike waking up for no apparent reason at four in the morning, there is something nice about pulling on some sweats and taking Duncan outside in the quiet dark, when the moon has neared the end of her slide across the sky and the sprinklers at the park are chick-a-chick-a-chicking across the grass. Dunc has that dazed look about him, like a child a parent must pull carefully off the couch and carry down the hall to bed, holding the small body carefully, arms and legs splayed akimbo, tiny head resting against a warm, familiar-smelling shoulder. He has an awake but still dreaming look, with tousled hair and bleary eyes. He is at his gentlest in the morning, and so gentle at 4:30 that for once he can't keep up with me as I lead him through the parking lot and across the street to enjoy the deep silence of Littleton in the early hours. And when I drop his leash and let him walk, he doesn't. He steps a few feet away and leans into his Little Job, body taut and tail straight out, his head craned forward and the light of the nearly full moon sparkling off the diamond water droplets that have moved from the blades of grass to collect on the tip of his nose. When he has finished he does not trot away but sidles up to me and runs his body across my calf, like a cat, then turns and looks back toward home, where the bed is cool with the blankets pulled back to reveal the sweet-smelling, fresh sheets. That's where he wants to be, curled up across Ken's pillow while he is in Michigan, and that's where I suppose I want to be too, although it would be nice to have Little Man here beside me, Duncan spread out between us, the cats perched all around. I have a feeling I wouldn't have been up if that were the case. But crossing the street again is nice for I can hear the soft patter of his feet on the cement, the gentle chink of his leash and collar, and I wonder if he will remember this moon in the morning or if he will think it was a dream of a late-night stroll, just the two of us and the heavy breathing sounds of nothing at all.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Good Friends

After an overly-long and completely unproductive thunderstorm under skies that couldn't decide what they wanted to be, Duncan was overjoyed at the prospect of a walk. He danced and pranced across the field, his rear end swinging so hard it occasionally passed him and pulled him right around in a circle, at which point he didn't know quite what to do so he threw himself into the grass and rolled so hard he actually did two somersaults, head over bum twice in a row, and came up, green blades caught around his collar, a barnyard version of a lion's mane, a confused look on his face, as though not quite sure if up was really up or if up was down. It didn't dampen the glory of his moment, though, and when we unexpectedly bumped into Kona and Melissa, he ran full throttle toward them, leaping into the air and touching noses with Kona then sidestepping around her to say hello to Melissa. Kona did the same for me and immediately stuffed her long, black snout into my pocket for the pumpkin treats she knows I keep there.

I love that he has a friend who merits such exuberance. I could watch them wrestle and leap all day, rolling in the grass together then laying side by side long enough to cool off and start all over again. We should all be so lucky, to have friends whose company propels us forward and drives us into the air and spin circles of joy around them. We should do as the dogs do and remind them of it every time we see them.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

This is What Matters

The walk is the one time of the day I really have to be present with myself, and with Duncan and the world, of course, but in a sense it's about being grounded, losing my thoughts and being entirely awake in the moment. I don't have to worry about pleasing anyone, being nice to anyone for the sake of business, I don't have to fret over what to make for dinner or how the carpet certainly is vacuuming itself. No one is evaluating me. The efficiency of the walk does not determine how well I'm liked, how much I make or even what I think of myself. There is no failure. Every walk Duncan and I go on is successful as long as I'm able to let the rest of it go, as long as I can find solace in the quiet and beautiful grace of the path, witness the things the universe has set before me.

This is what matters: that on the lake trail Duncan dragged me into a small shore-side grove of trees, where the deep grass still held the nearly pristine seedlings that snowed from the Cottonwoods a month ago. We stood on the shore and watched a bumblebee––not the heavy, zeppelin-types I remember from my childhood, but a small one––float from pink blossom to pink blossom and then, quite suddenly get caught in a warm and swirling current of air, which pulled a small clump of cotton from the grass and danced it around his hairy body. The two arced and twirled before my face for only a few seconds, just long enough to catch my breath and marvel at their silent ballet before the breeze released them. The cotton caught on the edge of the flower and the bee followed after it, alighting on a pink tuft to resume its work.


It matters that on the park side of the lake, the grass has grown up tall and fresh, smelling clean and soft enough to sleep on, the silky fans at its tips bending to caress and whisper sweet lullabies into ready ears.


It matters that the Otherway world was vibrant and clear, a looking glass waiting to be stepped into even as the walkers strolled past without noticing while the people sitting on the patio at the bar and grill hardly looked up at all. Even Duncan stopped to watch the flight of a dragonfly as it darted around his head and into the reeds before skimming the surface of the lake. I knelt next to him and rubbed his back while he stared transfixed.

And it mattered that another walker finally stopped, a woman I've seen many times, who does not wear ear buds or talk on her phone, who does not dress up for power walking or gossip with her friends. She walks a gentle pace, always alone, her face into the sun or the wind or the snow, smiling at the joy of walking.

"I see you here all the time," she said, letting Duncan sniff her hand before kneeling down next to him. "Isn't it beautiful?" she asked, looking at Otherway. "Do you ever feel like you're the only one who sees it?"

I smiled and nodded. "I feel that way all the time," I told her.

"I love it all," she stood up and wiped off her knees, which Duncan had slobbered on. "And I love how much you love your dog." She rested her hand on my shoulder a moment before turning and walking back down the trail, a moment of intimacy between strangers, like the moments I share with my dog and the world.

Thank the universe for him.
Thank the universe he has taught me to walk.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Summer Day

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
(Mary Oliver, The Summer Day)



*Thank you to Traci, who knows my voice and knows that I love Mary Oliver. She found this poem and sent it to me today and I am grateful for her love and kindness.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Bounties and Blessings of Summer

"That beautiful season the Summer! Filled was the air with a dreamy and magical light;
and the landscape lay as if new, created in all the freshness of childhood."
(Henry Wadsworth Longfellow)


I cannot tell you how perfect this night was, with Duncan, Kona and Melissa at the park, playing fetch under what was one of the most beautiful sunset skies I've ever seen, the kind of sunset only a child could draw, with rays of golden light breaking the spilled edges of indigo night into stripes, a luminous red seeping though and outlining the fabric of the air, igniting the quiet shadows between the deep of the trees. Even the dogs, tired as they were from chasing the ball, stopped and rested in the long grass and basked in the departing joy of the day and the ebullient chorus of coming night. The breast moon, fleshy and imperfect on the far side of the sky, watched over us, a flitting cloud of bats, circling overhead, angling and diving across the golden glow of her swollen, pendulous arc. There was not a moment that Melissa and I did not catch our breaths and sigh in a deep, satisfactory awe, pointing, our arms pink before us, golden auras glowing around the tips of our fingers.

It is good to be alive, good to have a dog or two at your side, and good to thank the universe for being able to stop long enough to recognize and name all the bounties of life. I am blessed indeed.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Linden

"If there are words for all the pastels in a hue––the lavenders, mauves, fuchsias, plums, and lilacs––who will name the tones and tints of a smell? It's as if we were hypnotized en masse and told to selectively forget. It may be too, that smells move us so profoundly, in part, because we cannot utter their names. In a world sayable and lush, where marvels offer themselves up readily for verbal dissection, smells are often right on the tip of our tongues––but no closer––and it gives them a kind of magical distance, a mystery, a power without name, a sacredness."
(Diane Ackerman, A Natural History of the Senses)

I have always been a person made drunk by his senses. Perhaps that's why I write. A vast portion of this life has been spent merely standing witness to the world around me, whether watching it with my eyes, recording the tones and cadence of it with my ears or breathing it in. We are all consumed by our senses--we could not function without them––but I believe that very few of us are as enslaved to them as I have been.

No one wants to choose which of his or her senses they could do without, but if I had to pick a favorite, the one that holds the most significance in my life, it would be scent. My days are comprised of Scent Chapters, from the smell of Ken's breath on the pillow next to me when I wake up in the morning to the scent of his hair on the same pillow when I fall asleep. I would be lost without my eyes or my ears, but I would be hopeless without my nose. The place in our brains which registers odors is right next door to the place which helps facilitate our memory, which is why a fleeting wave of perfume or an autumn afternoon can conjure vivid memories of days passed. With the exception of several months in college, I have a pretty sharp memory and I attribute it not only to my sense of smell but my appreciation and dedication to it.

For much of this past Spring I wrote about the perfume of my precious Russian Olive trees, how they are the signal that pulls me out of hibernation and reawakens me to the splendor of the world. My home in southeast Idaho is covered with Russian Olives and driving through the valley on an early summer night is pure bliss, enough to hold my heart captive to a place I've long since left. In contrast, my time in Illinois, although rich in many other respects, was devoid of them and I can not remember a time feeling more out of place. The rousing of summer has always been an important part of my life, a magnificent explosion of joy and sensuality, and while the return of the Russian Olives is exhilarating, their fading is equally devastating.

This is my first year living in Littleton and despite being a rather homogeneous place filled with strip malls, big box stores and small-minded, conservative people, I have discovered a new scent that will forever impact my life. If the story of my time in Idaho can be told by sage and wild mint, Russian Olives, dust and Juniper berries, and the shorter tale of Chicago is written by the scent of the lake, Littleton will chronicle my newfound love of the Linden tree.

I have been surrounded by them for the past year, but having moved to our current home in late July of last year, I'd missed the splendor of their fragrance by days. It wasn't until a few weeks ago that I took notice of them while on one of my countless walks with Duncan. I hadn't paid them any notice at all and didn't even know their name until a few days ago when I couldn't stand it any longer and decided it would be shame to continue luxuriating in their scent without at least learning what to call them. They look like an ordinary tree, the kind a child draws with crayons in elementary school and there appears to be nothing extraordinary about them. But then July happens and everything about them changes. They explode into a million tiny, yellow blossoms which eclipse the tree and bend its branches under their weight.

And the scent! Oh, the scent! It can only be described as lilac dipped in honey and cooled by the gentlest of northern breezes. The flowers may be small but they are by no means insignificant. They bake in the heat of the sun all day and bathe the nights in their sweetness, a scent that envelopes and intoxicates, causes the moon to swoon and radiate. I have never smelled anything so delicious and it is only now that the flowers are dropping from the trees, crumbling into a fine gold dust which covers the windshields of our cars and catches under the wiper-blades, fills the gutter and crunches under foot before getting tracked inside where it collects against the edges of the door, that I realize how incredibly incomplete the rest of this summer will be without it.

But now I know. Now I can pine through autumn and shiver through the terrible scentless cold of winter with this memory and I have something else to look forward to, like Christmas or birthdays. Now that I have the Linden, Summer has become more magical than I believed it to be only a month ago.

Away I walked for hours
whence stands the linden tree,
and still I hear it whisp'ring:
You'll find your peace with me!
(Wilhelm Müller, "Der LIndenbaum")

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Duncan's Bane

There is one man we pass several times a week who Duncan does not like. Not only does he not like him but he seems terrified of the guy, who, to everyone else appears completely innocuous. We only see him on our walks down to Hero's we when visit Aunt Chelsea, who always has a handful of treats ready for her favorite redhead (and on the rare occasion she's not prepared, Duncan wastes no time reminding her of her obligation to him). We pass hundreds of people at the park and down around the lake, even here at the apartment he's constantly exposed to other dogs and their companions. Although there are some––mostly little ones who seem more like rats than dogs––who Duncan would rather sidestep, he's always polite to them and at the very least indifferent, but there's not a single companion he doesn't try to win over. He's always overjoyed when people come to the apartment, sometimes grabbing the cuff of their shirt or even the loose fabric of their pants, and pulling them inside while offering them a guided tour. He's never not liked someone. Until we started running into this guy, this one rather portly man who seems nice enough, even if he does look a little cocky. Duncan, from their first encounter, has despised him. He's gone to great lengths to make as wide a berth around him as possible and when I've tried to introduce them, has raised his hackles and moved into a defense posture, things I've only ever seen him do in this man's presence. No matter how hard I try, no matter how the man holds his hand out to Dunc, he simply will not suffer to be around him. We've stepped in slowly but poor Roo pulls back on his leash and squirms and flops around, practically strangling himself, until I have to ease up and walk away.

On our afternoon walk today we skirted the lake and came up the path behind the pet store. The Colorado Irish Festival has been in full gear on the hill above the lake since Friday afternoon, and Duncan has spent much of our strolls with his nose to the ground sniffing for any stray bits of Bangers and Mash or other delicacies which might have dropped on the ground. He'd already scored what I can only hope was a bit of pie crust as we came around the side of the building and ran smack dab into Duncan's least favorite person. I stood silently by while Duncan sniffed and sniffed, moving up the sidewalk toward his enemy, completely oblivious to his presence. Finally when he reached the man's trouser cuffs he stopped and slowly, very slowly looked up at him, his enemy, who, as always, had his hand out. Duncan yelped, a sound I haven't heard since he was a puppy and Winnie taught him who was boss. At the same moment he literally jumped straight into the air, like a cat, back arched, a hair stripe running from his head to his tail, and made as though he couldn't decide whether to scramble up into my arms or to run away shrieking, pulling me into the parking lot behind him. The man only watched, a stoic (although slightly arrogant) look on his face. He doesn't seem to care whether or not Dunc likes him but is always waiting.

I calmed Roo and led him into Hero's where Aunt Chelsea was sure to offer some tasty organic treats and locally made pumpkin cookie bits. He soon forgot the trouble in the parking lot but when we left I made sure we walked as far away as we could from the M.C.'s Pizza Guy.

Delaware

In the nine months since I first started writing about my walks with Duncan this blog has been viewed nearly six thousand times by visitors from seventy countries around the world, including Russia, China, Iran, southeast Asia, Cameroon, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, nearly all of Europe and most of South America. It's been a fascinating endeavor to check my Google Analytics and watch the map of the world light up with all sorts of places in which I'd love to walk Duncan (even those places where--and here's the old joke again––the locals would much rather read a blog entitled "While Woking Duncan").

The one hurdle, the one little blip on the map that's been driving me crazy for months has been Delaware, the final hold-out here at home. I've been watching and waiting for almost a year, witnessing the addition of India, the Czech Republic, Serbia and Montenegro while wondering what the hell was going on in Delaware that none of the good people there had the time to enjoy Duncan's walks with the rest of us. Granted, I don't have much experience with Delaware, except for the two days I spent at Rehoboth Beach when I was ten, but it seemed a nice enough place, and is still the only place where the Atlantic Ocean has washed up around my ankles.

So I complained to my friend Lori at Fermented Fur, who'd also somehow been overlooked by the Delawarians. Rather than take the Curt-Approach (i.e. wait-and-see) she whipped up a post that addressed the issue head-on. And typical of Lori's outspoken and humorous style she elicited a response almost immediately.

And so it gives me great pleasure to announce that Delaware has finally come on board. Thanks to Mike Mahaffie, who did the deed, sucking it up for the entire state. Mike has two great blogs, Mike's Musings and Gratitudes, which, even though it hasn't been added to in a while, is a heartfelt celebration of life's details, the things often overlooked that shouldn't be. As I said last October, it's important to keep a list of particulars, which is, in its own way, what While Walking Duncan is all about: being mindful, observant and awake to the goings-on of the world around us. Mike seems a right darn mindful guy and I hope each of you can take a moment to check out his blogs and let him know that I'm most grateful for his contribution to my peace of mind.

Post Script: If you're from North Dakota, Montana or Mississippi, you really need to check out Fermented Fur. Lori's a good egg and will make you laugh! Check back often, too!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

An Uncommon Morning

July rarely surprises. It is not cruel February, which, here on the Front Range, occasionally sets aside its icy countenance for hours at a time and masquerades as June, with sunshine and warmth, gloriously blue skies and sidewalks that are free of ice. Nor is it May, which can be fickle and temperamental and even a little schizophrenic with warm sunny days and then sudden, unexpected––and certainly undeserved––snow storm tantrums and cold front fits. July, though, is always July: full-bodied, blistering and reliably fierce. July is always and only ever July.

Except, of course, this morning, when it dressed up as June and we awoke to a shockingly cool fifty-five degrees. The sun was up, big in the east, and the birds were out, perched on shadow-kissed branches and boughs, singing in short staccato bursts that matched the marching of the relentlessly searching ants, who wound up and down the trunks of the trees or fanned out over the still cool sidewalks. Or perhaps it was the other way around, the ants keeping time with the birds. Our nights have been unusually cool this year, but our mornings have been typically hot and dry, even by 8 AM. This morning was too good to pass up, so Duncan and I leashed up and went outside for a long tromp through the tall, wet grass.

The rabbits which seemed to have taken over the world only a few months back have all but vanished. We see them only occasionally, just after dawn, when the sun is still low but steadily climbing, or in the evenings, after it has set and the shadows have swallowed the world, which turns from blue to purple before our eyes. They sit in the grass on the edges of the lawns, their backs hunched up behind them while they try their hardest to look like small stumps or gray stones. Duncan loves to watch them even more than the squirrels, who scamper up trees and rain down curses on us from above once they're well out of reach. The rabbits sit, their ears up and twitching, their bodies tense and ready to spring, but they allow us to get quite close before they bound away into the low shrubs along the sides of the buildings, flashing their tails and the white bottoms of their furry hind feet as they go.

I like the rabbits, too, but even more I like watching Duncan watch them, the way he leans forward and his face turns solid and determined, like a hunter, like something on the prowl. But his ears stay up and his eyes stay wide and friendly and I can see that more than wanting to catch them and eat them, he wants to sniff and turn them over and bury his nose in their bellies. He wants to play and lick them and roll on the ground next to them, maybe get carried away and roll over them. He wants to make them his friends. I know this because I know my dog.

The rabbit we saw this morning was still small and quite lean, but once he fills out will make a handsome Jack. He crouched near one of the bushes whose short, stubby leaves stay poison-apple red all year, and just a few feet from the parking lot. Just behind him an obscenely yellow Penske truck had parked and a group of young women attired in CSU sweatshirts and baseball hats and very short shorts were busy unloading it and carrying its contents into their new apartment. They were a bit loud and obnoxious for 8 AM and I suspect that several of them were probably still a little drunk from whatever misadventures they'd had last night. The rabbit was well aware of them but he also had to contend with Duncan and myself creeping up on him from the front. Other than his ears, which turned this way and that, back and forth from the sound of the former sorority sisters to our gentle push through the damp grass, he did not move. Perhaps he was one of the ones we've encountered a hundred times before, who knew that Duncan never gets too close but instead takes slow and cautious steps, his eyes wide with wonder and curiosity rather than hunger.

He eventually stopped listening to us and kept his ears turned toward the women, who struggled to carry a heavy black leather sofa down the truck ramp. At the tops of the red bushes behind him several small sparrows squeaked and hopped and some alighted on the ground beneath them, pecking and darting quickly with the awkward convulsive grace of heavy brown butterflies. Each of their movements stirred the thin branches of the shrubs, bending and rustling the twigs and leaves as they went. The bunny listened to them as well, but when the couch was dropped quite suddenly the birds lost his attention, which was once again focused on the movers. After some time they were able to lift the thing and carry it across the parking-lot and into their new home. The bunny relaxed and the yard become very quiet and not even the birds sang. Duncan had stopped his slow advance but kept a single paw raised in the air before him. He turned and glanced at me and then went back to watching the bunny, who seemed content with our presence and the gentle rustling in bushes behind him. He took a cautious hop forward and began chewing on a bee-less patch of clover.

The cat was swift. It sprang from the red shrub and landed on the rear haunch of the rabbit, whose body elongated as it stretched to bound away but was caught. Rather than launch into the air it fell flat on its belly, its legs splayed out around it, ears standing tall above it. Duncan jerked on the leash and it was a moment before I realized what had happened. The rabbit let out a squeal, a high-pitched sound I will probably hear in my head for the next few days, and tried to kick but the cat, sitting full on top of it held it down and curled its claws into its prey.

"Hey," I said, holding Duncan back. Then, "Hey," again, louder. This time I let the leash go slack and Duncan leapt forward dragging me along with him. "Get out of here," I yelled and waved my free arm over my head. The cat, who hadn't seen us, looked up, its eyes wide, shocked that its plan had gone so terribly awry, and jumped clear, back into the bushes where we heard it scamper off around the side of the building. The rabbit jumped straight into the air and kicked with its long hind feet before bounding around us in a wide arc then across the yard, kicking every third hop. Duncan turned to follow but I reeled him in and we watched the rabbit dive head first into a dense thicket of brambles and vanish.

Duncan plopped down next to me, his tongue out, his ears up and alert, a big, goofy Golden grin spread across his face. I may think what I want of July, but Duncan knows better. The world is full of surprises and he is here to marvel at each of them.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Wet Cement

The parking lots have been crumbling since last November. After the first big batch of snow and ice melted, the cement, too, tried to retreat, which left big, gaping holes and cracks (although in some instances, "crevasses" would be a more fitting word) which have required careful driving and even more careful walking at night. Finally management has decided to do something about it, the same week all the buildings are getting a fresh coat of paint, and so the parking lots have been filled to capacity with trucks and workers carrying buckets and power-washers and big rake things and mountains of cement piled in bags all over the place. There is so much work going on that they brought in an enormous garbage tanker and plopped it right down on the spot where Duncan and I watched our baby bunnies nestle in the grass all Spring. The bunnies, displaced by the noise and parade of workers, have moved on to quieter spots, but Dunc still insists on looking for them three times a day.

Walking to the mailbox this afternoon we stepped around a nice big square of wet cement. I tapped my toe on it and saw that, although still slightly moist, it had thickened up quite nicely and would support our weight without making too much of a mess. Thinking it a would be lovely to leave our prints in it as a permanent reminder that we'd walked and loved these places, we stepped out onto it and absolutely nothing happened. The cement stayed firm and in place and neither of us made the slightest imprint upon it.

Further down the walk, right in front of the mail-house, we stopped in front of a second big patch of fresh cement, and not thinking, I let Duncan step out into it, where he immediately sank almost up to his chest. The cement made a nice, moist belching sort of noise and neither of us moved for a second. Duncan looked around, not quite sure what to think of the situation and I watched him sink a few more inches. Painters on ladders and scaffolding at a nearby building burst into laughter as I leaned over and scooped Duncan up in my arms. As his body rose up and his legs pulled out, dripping with what looked like very thick, gray cake batter, the cement folded back into place and farted. I set Dunc down and we trotted home, although we had to leave the parking lot and sidewalks and scurry around the back of several out-of-the-way buildings to avoid the laborers who'd worked so hard making it a nice, flat surface. Our route would not have been hard to follow, though, as heavy clumps of cement dripped off him and settled in the grass, like Hansel and Gretel dropping pebbles behind them on their way through the woods. Duncan could've cared less and kept trying to stop and sniff clumps of grass or the trunks of the still-flowering trees. I pulled him along and lifted him into my arms when we reached home, where I carried him through the living room and down the hallway to the bathroom, where I plopped him down in the tub and hit the water, which turned black as it trickled down his legs and coated the floor of the tub with fine particles of rock. Realizing I'd forgotten to grab towels, I told him to stay and went down the hall for his bath sheets only to return twenty seconds later to discover he'd left the tub and had galloped all over the bathroom, up the walls, across the shower curtain, across every conceivable inch of linoleum, over the toilet and up the back of the door. Thick, black paw prints covered every possible surface. So in addition to cleaning the dog, I've spent much of the afternoon scrubbing the entire bathroom. It's been a wonderful way to spend a July afternoon.


After Dunc was clean I grabbed my camera and headed back down to the mail-house for a picture of the ruined slab. Unfortunately I was too late; the workers had returned and had already smoothed it flat, dumbfounded expressions on their faces. I admitted it had been my dog, or rather, my dog's stupid companion, who had wrecked havoc on their hard labor. They listened and nodded and finally asked, "¿Qué?"

I'm afraid if they'd understood they'd demand menudo on tonight's menu.

Working with Duncan

When the boss is away the dogs will play. Duncan made another guest appearance at work today, enjoying a leisurely afternoon of being fawned over by everyone, listening to some rockin' good tunes and chasing his ball and his blue bone up and down the aisles. He wasn't quite as reserved as he has been in the past, so I'd toss a toy down a long aisle and work furiously for a minute or so while he searched for it then brought it back, plopping it down at my feet and pawing at the back of my chair for more attention. When he grew tired of his own toys he vanished for a bit and returned with a tiny, stuffed pig which was attired in a t-shirt emblazoned with the school's name (a fitting symbol if ever there was one!). He did that last Summer, which resulted in our adoption of his Berry, but seeing as he's still ripping through his Bah-Bah I thought it best to return the pig to its spot on the shelf. Besides, all of his toys start with the letter B and I couldn't think of anything fitting for the pig. Some things just aren't meant to be.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Bone and Blade

There is nothing good about this kind of Summer day, when the heat is as uncomfortable as a dirty look, making you squirm and shift restlessly, when the shimmering air rising off the sidewalks pulls the breath out of you and replaces it with hot, bleached bone. The grass has started to crisp and yellow in big southward-facing patches and walking on it in the high heat of the day can be like walking on pricklies, crunching under the soles of your shoes or stabbing the delicate, pink places between your toes. The air is dry and weighs nothing, feels insubstantial but gives one the strange sensation that they're about to be lifted away, pulled into the hot, blue atmosphere and burnt to a cinder. I remember those July days in Illinois, drowning with each breath, waiting, it seemed, for months for the world to dry out. I remember my family saying things like, "It's hot here and muggy," and knowing that their definition of humid meant something in the range of thirty-five percent while I was swimming to work in a nice, solid ninety-eight. And I'd tell them, feeling superior, "Yeah, but it's a dry heat so it doesn't count." Ah, the ways we enjoy telling others that our own suffering is greater than theirs.

Even though I have experienced both extremes, having lived seven years in the moist, green Shire and the rest of my days in the desert or on the high prairies, I will not debate the issue. I will only say that opening my door this afternoon to take Duncan for his first walk was like standing in front of a giant kiln. I felt myself bake, felt the moisture pulled from my skin, felt the burn in my lungs and the searing of my eyes. And that was in the shade of my breezeway. Pushing out into the sunshine was like trying to climb through a burning brick wall. If it had been just me I would've selected a few choice words and turned on my heels for the cool of my living room.But Duncan was there, smarter than me, and pulled us forward, across the street and into the shade of a few tall juniper trees. The grass was long and cool and we both threw ourselves into it, clouds of minuscule gnats rising up like mist around us. It felt good on my bare legs, so I kicked off my flip-flops and ran my toes through it like I'd run my fingers through the hair of a lover. Duncan kicked his legs in the air and did his best to stain the red fur of his back with grass juice, huffing and snorting as he went, occasionally pausing to see if I was doing the same. The trick worked last winter when it was so cold the only thing I could do to enjoy standing knee-deep in snow and ice was to throw myself into the large drifts and roll around with him until our faces and bodies were covered in soft, glistening powder. I followed his lead and began to roll alongside him, which spurred him on and soon we were doing a sort of synchronized land-swim across the grass, spinning around each other, occasionally entwining and moving apart, rolling over one another. It was bliss and I didn't care who saw. One of the groundskeepers rolled up in his golf cart and watched for a moment. I waved, Duncan snorted and we continued until he drove away satisfied that we weren't suffering seizures and did not need medical attention. Three children pushed by on their scooters and later a small gaggle of skater kids lazed past, all stopping to watch. I laughed at the absurdity of the situation but was redeemed when one of them, the tallest boy, said, "Great looking dog, guy!" Five minutes later they'd settled into a similar shady spot not too far away, below the skate park, and were following our lead, rolling and cavorting, pulling grass up in big clumps and tossing it, not at each other, but into the air above their heads where it spun down around them.

The world would be such a better place if we put our faith in our companions. They always know best. I learn the lesson over and over every day: Trust Duncan. He has not led me wrong.

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